One of the biggest complaints I hear from Executive Directors and Development folks is that they wish their Board would help with fundraising.
It’s their job, right? A nonprofit Board is supposed to “ensure adequate resources” for the organization.
And it’s not like they want their Board members to make million-dollar Asks. They want their Board to sell tickets to their events. They’d like for Board members to bring prospects by for a tour. And they’d LOVE for Board members to open doors and set up meetings with VIPs.
Any of this sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so.
Is it just wishful thinking to want that much from your Board? I don’t think so.
I believe that it’s possible to have a fundraising Board. Heck, I’ve been part of Boards that were great at stepping up to help. With the right training and support, ANY Board can become a fundraising Board.
And it starts with you. You may need to adjust your expectations a bit and put a few things in place so that they CAN be successful.
Here’s what I’ve figured out over many years of working with Boards: most people who sit on a Board are good-hearted and really want to help. The problem is that they don’t understand what they’ve said “yes” to. And in the absence of knowledge about their role, they migrate to whatever looks fun. That’s why so many tend to micromanage.
So how do you fix it? First, understand that it will take a little time. Like turning the Titanic, shifting your Board’s culture is a slow process and you’ve got to be patient. Forcing it or trying to hurry it along won’t help.
Next, realize that you know WAY more about their job than they do. It’s up to you to help them learn to be a good Board member. Stop playing the Blame Game and being mad at them for their lack of meeting your expectations, and start teaching them what they need to know. They already look to you for answers to most questions anyway, so be prepared to show them the way.
Here are some tips for helping your Board better understand fundraising and how they can join in:
- Set the expectation. When you recruit new members, let them know that they will need to give a personal gift AND participate in fundraising. Your Board prospects will know exactly what they’re getting into, and you’ll avoid a bunch of mess later on. Just to be safe, I’d put it in writing and give them a copy.
- Be clear with Board members about what you want them to do. They aren’t mind readers. They more specific you can be, the easier it is for them to say “yes” and follow through. “Everyone needs to fill a table for the upcoming event” is much better than “Please help us make the event a success.”
- Set your Board members up for success. Make it as easy for them as you can to get a “win” from a fundraising task. This will encourage more participation. Give them the tools or talking points they need for the task you’ve asked them to complete. In the example of filling a table for an event, give them all the details about the event (when, where, how much, etc.), help them brainstorm who would make great event attendees, give them a timeline of when they should be asking guests to join them and when they should be done, and anything else you can think of that would make this task easier.
- Have individual conversations with them. It’s time to stop making broad announcements at meetings or in email like “Everyone needs to sell 10 tickets to the dinner.” I guarantee you that some of your Board members won’t feel comfortable doing it for some reason, and you’ll uncover that reason in a 1-to-1 conversation. Otherwise, you’ll just be frustrated because only a couple of your Board members did what you asked. The more you know where individual Board members are coming from and what their strengths are, the more you can play to those strengths and the happier you’ll both be.
- Help them find where they fit in. For those who aren’t comfortable making a direct Ask for money (or selling a ticket, etc.), find them another way to support your fundraising efforts in a way that feels good to them. You can have them make Thank You calls to donors or ask them to host dinner parties in their home to share with their friends about the good work your organization is doing. Lots of people are terrified of actually asking for money, but they’re more than happy to thank donors. The most important thing is to help your Board members find a place where they can contribute to your fundraising campaign and still be comfortable in their own skin.
And don’t forget to celebrate successes with them! Positive reinforcement will help shore up their new skills!